Minnesota wins college tournament by not cheating. Unlike you, Harvard

(Updated 3:23 p.m. with comments from championship team)

Congratulations, Minnesota! You’ve got a new college team champion. Two, actually!

It happened today when the National Academic Quiz Tournaments organization stripped Harvard of four tournament victories for cheating, giving the U of M the 2009 title in the undergraduate category, and the 2011 Division I championship.

Harvard team member Andy Watkins accessed the organization’s server and viewed pages where questions to be asked were stored.

Watkins, showing Harvard chutzpah, issued a statement noting that just because he accessed the questions to be asked, doesn’t mean he gained an advantage by using the information in the subsequent tournaments:

I regret my breaches of question security. I am gratified that NAQT acknowledges that there is neither direct nor statistical evidence that I took advantage of my access; though I know everyone will make their own judgments, I did compete in good faith. My memories of my four ICTs in particular, and my time with the Harvard team in general, are my fondest memories of quiz bowl and some of the fondest of my time as an undergraduate. It is unfortunate, if understandable that, despite the aforementioned lack of direct or statistical evidence, NAQT finds it best to vacate Harvard’s wins and championships. I hold my teammates from all three years to be champions today exactly as they were yesterday. I hope that they will consider themselves in the same light, even if my indiscretions mean that the record books cannot.

My immaturity damaged my much-prized relationship with NAQT and cast undue doubt on three remarkable accomplishments by three Harvard teams. It will surprise no one that my mental health as an undergraduate was always on the wrong side of “unstable,” but that does not excuse my actions, nor does it ameliorate the damage done. I apologize to my teammates, to NAQT, and to the community for how my actions sullied three amazing years of competition.

“We came agonizingly close to winning,” U of M team member Andrew Hart told me this afternoon, noting the 2009 team got tripped up on the last question on the plays of John Dryden.

“One of our team members actually broke something after that game,” he says, although he acknowledges now that the ’09 championship as an undergraduate team pales to now winning the 2011 overall title.

“If you can see the questions ahead of time, it’s not just having an advantage, it’s like having the answer key to the test,” Hart had earlier told Inside Higher Ed. “[Harvard A] was already one of the best teams in the country, so I think that gave them the push they needed to get over the top. They were able to win these tournaments based on… cheating.”

Hart, who is a law student heading for a position with the Minnesota Court of Appeals when he graduates, has two more tournaments to go (there are two per year). He says there’s no bad blood between his squad and Harvard. “I know them extremely well,” he says of the team members who didn’t cheat. “I talk to them all the time.”

But, for the record, he and his team aren’t sweating Harvard. “Everyone thinks Harvard is the team to beat because, ‘oh, they’re Harvard,’ but at least in recent memory, Minnesota has had a better string of performances. From 2008 to 2011, we were one of the best three teams. The University of Chicago is the New York Yankees of quiz bowl.”